by Courtney Llewellyn
New York Farm Bureau hosts an annual call each January to go over its public policy priorities for the year. It appears as if 2021 will showcase a continuation of the topics concerning Empire State agriculture from last year.
NYFB President David Fisher began the call by stating, “2020 was a challenging year for everyone. We’re hopeful this year will be better.”
He said the bureau must remain vigilant to address ongoing concerns, especially public health. NYFB is part of the Let’s Get Immunized NY coalition (letsgetimmunizedny.org). “We’ll continue pressing New York State to add farmworkers to the Phase 1B vaccine rollout as soon as possible,” Fisher said. “We need to make sure our food supply chain functions safely, and that starts with our farms.”
Jeff Williams, NYFB director of public policy, added, “If people are sick and can’t take care of animals, that’s a big issue. New York has shown support of including farmers in this phase, but it’s a matter of vaccine supply.”
Fisher continued that the pandemic put pressure on the NYS budget, but overall, he’s pleased with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive funding plan, which is flat in many areas when compared to last year. “That’s good in terms of what could have been cut,” he noted.
The proposed budget keeps the farm workforce retention tax credit at $600 per employee (although NYFB has been lobbying for doubling that amount for a few years).
“Ag funding is tiny fraction of overall state funding, but farms feed all New Yorkers,” Fisher stated. “Funding reductions would place even larger barriers in front of state farms that would be harder to correct down the road.”
NYFB is also in favor of continuing funding for Nourish NY (agriculture.ny.gov/NourishNY), which compensates farmers for their products and reduces food waste at the same time. A total of $35 million has already been allocated for the program. As milk market prices continue to ebb and flow, farmers need to keep moving product, and this program is one way to do so.
Williams also noted he was pleased to see the governor include better access to broadband in his State of the State address. “Farmers need broadband to do business,” he said. Today, it’s needed to access sales, to use high-tech equipment and data and for remote schooling. The issue of high speed internet access is ongoing, but offering New Yorkers cheap broadband doesn’t matter if they don’t have access, Williams said.
NYFB will also have a renewed focus on science-based decision-making at the capital when it comes to fighting climate change, since farms are at the forefront of that fight. Williams spoke on the bans on certain pesticides in recent years, and how farmers now need stronger products – banning certain chemicals takes tools out of the farmers’ toolbox. Even if the EPA approves something, NY DEC does further testing and tends to be stricter. “The legislature aren’t scientists, but they’re making decisions on bans based on politics,” Williams said. The same thing is happening in the veterinary community. “We want the best treatment of our animals and our crops, and it should be science based.”
A major policy topic being carried into this year as well was the amount of hours a farm laborer can work before overtime pay is required. Williams explained that the Farm Labor Wage Board took a “one-year breather” on whether or not the farm overtime limit at 60 hours should be lowered. “It was clear to us during pandemic we needed a timeout to reassess the situation at the end of the year,” he said. “We want to encourage the wage board to visit more farms and host more hearings to make a more knowledgeable decision. Certain members of the wage board see this as more a philosophical conversation than a practical one.”